Updated on October 17, 2017
Winter Car Seat Safety: How to Keep Your Kids Safe AND Warm
It’s coming. It’s coming very soon. Maybe in your part of the world it’s already here! I’m talking about winter. With winter comes a whole host of wonderful things from building snow men and making snow angels, to hot chocolate topped with marshmallows sipped by a crackling fire. Unfortunately, winter also comes with a bunch of less wonderful things like ice and freezing cold weather. What’s a parent to do with their little ones when the weather is down right frigid? That’s a very good question. You know what you DON’T want to do? Buckle them into their car seats with a coat on. Yeah you heard me. How on earth do you manage to keep your kids warm and safe at the same time when shuttling them from point A to point B in the car all winter? Not only is it completely possible to keep your kids warm AND safely buckled in, but it’s actually super quick and easy too. If I can do it in the midst of winter here when it gets to -40 without the wind chill, you can totally do it where you live too. Promise.
So what’s the big deal with coats in car seats anyway? The problem with coats in car seats is that they don’t allow you to tighten the harness straps enough to properly restrain your child in the event of a collision. You can tighten that harness so it passes the “pinch test”, but with the force of a collision the bulk of the coat will be compressed leaving a gap between your child and the harness. To demonstrate this, I put The Heir in his convertible car seat with his winter coat on and I tightened the straps so that they passed the pinch test (no easy feat as the coat made getting the harness that tight pretty difficult to begin with). Then, without loosening the harness at all, I unbuckled The Heir, took his coat off, and buckled him back in. What I was left with was easily 3 inches of slack in the harness. That’s enough slack that his torso, head, and neck would be able to have A LOT of movement in a collision. It’s even enough slack that he could potentially slide right out of the harness and be ejected from his car seat. Scary thought.
What about snow suits or puffy bunting suits for the wee ones? Those are also a no go. I can put Petit Prince in his snow suit in his car seat, tighten the harness to pass the pinch test, but it’s still not safe. If I take him out without loosening the straps, remove his snow suit, and put him back in, the straps are obviously much too loose to restrain him properly. As you can see, he could easily be ejected from his car seat when that snow suit compresses in the event of a collision.
Now that you know why kids should never be buckled into their car seats while wearing snow suits or winter coats, let me tell you how I keep the kids warm in the dead of winter without compromising their safety. First of all, think layers! Fleece is an excellent layering option to keep your kids warm and still allow you to tighten the harness of the car seat sufficiently. The Heir has a half zip fleece jacket that he can wear over a shirt or sweater for a typical cold winter day or he can wear it under his coat on the super cold days. When we get to the car, I simply take off his winter coat and leave the fleece on. It takes me all of 30 seconds to get his coat off of him once he’s in the car, so neither of us are hanging around freezing half to death for very long.
For keeping Petit Prince warm in his car seat, I turn to fleece for him too. I love the Columbia Snowtop II Fleece Bunting Suit for him. I can put him in it with just regular clothing on underneath and he’s toasty warm without compromising on safety. Best of all, he’s nice and toasty if I need to transfer him into the carrier or the stroller. I don’t need to worry about losing mittens or booties either because the Columbia fleece bunting suit has fold over cuffs at the hands and feet.
Maybe it’s super cold out and you haven’t had a chance to warm up the car. For those days, I throw a blanket over each of the kids once they are fully buckled in. We have dedicated blankets that live in the car for this very purpose. That way I don’t have to remember to grab them in the mad dash to get out the door on time for preschool drop offs. If the kids get too warm with the blankets on during the drive, they can easily kick them off.
There are lots of other solutions out there for keeping kids warm in the car. One great option for the infant bucket seat is a shower cap style car seat cover. Unlike the bunting bag style which can interfere with the routing of the harness and adds a thick layer between your child and the car seat, a shower cap style cover just wraps around the top of the car seat. You buckle baby into the seat first and then add the car seat cover. They can be unzipped or opened up so baby doesn’t overheat once the heat in the car kicks in. The JJ Cole Car Seat Cover, the Baby Parka Carseat Cover, and the 7 AM Enfant Cocoon are all great options. I used a Carseat Canopy over Petit Prince’s bucket seat to add a bit of warmth. It attaches to the handle of the bucket seat and drapes over the seat.
For kids that are riding in a convertible car seat, a car seat poncho works great. A car seat poncho is like a hooded cape with an opening in the front. When you put the child in the car seat, the back of the poncho goes up over the top of the car seat (so it isn’t laying between the child and the seat), and the front of the poncho opens so you can buckle up the harness. The beauty of a car seat poncho is that it doubles as a coat, so you don’t have to take it on and off when going in and out of the car. If you’re at all crafty, you can make a car seat poncho following one of the many DIY tutorials online.
There are quite a few other options for keeping kids warm safely in their car seats.
The Monarch Mommy’s One Kid Road Coat Review (GIVEAWAY is still open)
The Monarch Mommy’s Canadian Baby Ponchos Review
The Monarch Mommy’s Baby Parka Toddler Coat Review
The Monarch Mommy’s Mouse & Hatter Designs Car Seat Poncho Review
The Monarch Mommy’s Cozywoggle Car Seat Coat Review
A wonderful blogger in my network has written reviews on some of those options. You can check them out here:
For more information on why car seats and winter coats don’t mix, click here.
How do you do winter and car seats where you are? Have you found an awesome product that keeps the kids warm without compromising on safety? I want to hear about it!
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